August 13th, 1912

Mon, Aug 13, 2012, 01:00

FROM THE ARCHIVES:The Irish Times joined in the controversy stirred up by Douglas Hyde’s criticism of Irishmen who imitated Englishmen with this editorial.

OUR COLUMNS have recently been open to an interesting discussion concerning the “imitation Englishman” in Ireland. It is not merely a silly season topic; in fact, with a section of our Press and preachers, the “imitation Englishman,” often only so-called, is an object of anger and derision all year round.

The subject, if impartially and courageously treated, is of really considerable psychological importance. Unfortunately, it is seldom so treated. If we wished to draw up an indictment of the Gaelic League, our first count would be that it has encouraged a habit of vague, indefinite, and dogmatic theorising which leads nowhere, because it starts from nowhere. Dr Douglas Hyde . . . is an old offender in this respect. It was his abusive remarks at the Castlerea Feis concerning Trinity College as an Anglicising agency that drew forth the first letter of the correspondence in question.

The Reverend Dudley Fletcher [ . . . ]pointed out that Dr Hyde himself studied the Irish language at Trinity College. But we think that he showed some misunderstanding of Dr Hyde’s point of view when he inquired sarcastically whether an Irishman without a brogue might not be regarded as a true Irishman. The Irishman’s brogue is, in fact, one of the chief assets of Gaelic League controversy. It is held up to ridicule for an obvious reason.

When the Gaelic propagandist wants to show that the English language is, for an Irishman, an unnatural medium of speech, he says that the Irishman speaks English badly, witness his accent. [ . . . ]It is, indeed, fit and proper that such inhabitants of Ireland as pretend to culture shall be interested in Irish study, and the Gaelic League, for replacing Irish study in its rightful position, deserves all praise.

But when Gaelic Leaguers raise the race-distinction, and provoke those in this country who have reason to hold English tradition . . . in respect, it is well to remind them that in the darkest days of Anglicisation the torch of Irish learning was kept aloft by the Englishry, and not by the Irishry, of Ireland. Clergymen of the “alien” Church were at one time the only serious Gaelic scholars in Ireland. What Ireland required at the time that the Gaelic League was formed was a “culture movement,” such as has been conducted by [Frederic] Mistral and the Félibrige [local language movement] in Provence. Had they fostered such a movement it would have rebounded to the permanent glory of Dr Hyde and his friends.

But, unfortunately, the League [ . . . ]insisted on mapping out the whole future of Ireland. Now, if Gaelic does not – and, of course, it will not – again become the language of this country, the League stands condemned as a partial failure. Provençal is dying. But the air of Provence will remain sweeter for the songs of Mistral. Shall we be able to say as much for the League in ten or twenty years’ time?

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